Harvick Takes Race and Points Lead, Dale Jr. 13th Bud Team Strong Early, Now 7th in Points Kevin Harvick continued his hot streak Sunday, winning the New Hampshire 300 at Loudon, NH. Harvick now leads the point standings after the first of ten...
Harvick Takes Race and Points Lead, Dale Jr. 13th
Bud Team Strong Early, Now 7th in Points
Kevin Harvick continued his hot streak Sunday, winning the New Hampshire 300 at Loudon, NH. Harvick now leads the point standings after the first of ten races for the Nextel Cup Championship. It is Harvick's fourth win of the year, and third in the last six Cup races. Harvick also leads the Busch Series point standings. Tony Stewart finished second, followed by Jeff Gordon in third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team climbed into the top-three early in the 300-laps race, but gradually slipped back in the field as the handling deteriorated. The 13th-place finish drops Dale Jr. one position in the point standings, and is now 7th with nine races remaining (-81 points behind Harvick, and 46 points behind second place).
Key Moments: Dale Jr., starting 13th, passed his way into the top-10 almost effortlessly early in the race, and then climbed into the top-five by lap 41. After several pit stops, Dale Jr. climbed into third position by lap 111, closing on the lead cars of Harvick and Jeff Burton. From that point in the race, the Bud car began to slowly lose the handle in the corners, as Dale Jr. fought with a tight condition with the nose of the car becoming less and less willing to turn in the middle of each corner. A key moment came on lap 193, when the field became jumbled under yellow-flag conditions. With some cars staying out and others taking only two tires, the Bud car managed to avoid becoming involved in a restart crash on lap 199, but after restarting in 8th place, the no. 8 car never again gained a better position. When another yellow flew on lap 266, the team stopped for four tires, restarting in 11th position, but the deteriorating handling combined with heavy traffic impeded progress further.
Dale Jr. Quotes:
"I'm really, really frustrated. We have to do better than that as a team if we want to win this championship. People have taken shots at me saying I don't care about winning, but I can tell you nobody else wants to win more when I'm in that race car. We tried hard, really hard - the whole team did - and Tony (crew chief) Eury Jr. tried a lot of changes to make the car handle, but trying hard isn't going to do it. I am proud of the effort, but we didn't do our best. I have so much confidence in this team, and I think if we do our best, we'll be right there at the end of the year. We're way better than we showed today."
"We had an issue all weekend where the car was tight - the nose wouldn't turn in the middle of the corners. The car was pretty good early on, we were passing cars and closing on the leaders, but then the handling started to go away and we were never able to correct it or improve it in the final 200 laps. We were racin' like hell those final 50 laps - especially with Matt (Kenseth) and we were three-wide with (Ryan) Newman and Mark (Martin) a couple of times and just couldn't stay in front of them or make the pass."
Best Radio Chatter:
With the tension very apparent at the first of 10 races for the Chase for the Cup, there was very little chatter during the 300 laps on the tight, 1-mile Loudon, NH oval. The car seemed to be at its peak following a yellow flag on lap 98, when Dale Jr. was in third place, and closing on the leaders.
Dale Jr: "The car feels good now, but you've got to keep freeing it up."
Tony Eury Jr. (crew chief): "10-4."
Dale Jr.: "Those jet blowers are really making the track suck. It's real slick. I think it's the same for practice. It's slick at the start of practice." (Jet-powered dryers are used to clean the track during yellow flags, but the leave a slick residue.)
Steve Hmiel (spotter): "Yeah, it's all that jet fuel."
Eury Jr: "You're the fastest car on the track right now. You're running number-for-number with the guys in front. So, take care of your stuff. We'll get 'em later."
Dale Jr: "Taking care of my stuff is running a .25 (29.25 seconds)..."
Eury Jr.: "Alright then... that lap was an .05 (29.05 seconds)..."
As the race continued, and the frustration mounted, Dale Jr. resorted to mono-syllabic descriptions of the car.
Dale Jr.: "Tight. Tight. Tight. Tight."
Eury Jr.: "10-4. We'll try to help ya."
Dale Jr: "What place am I in?"
Eury Jr: "8th place. The 17 car (Kenseth) is the next spot."
Dale Jr.: "It still doesn't turn in the middle and I have no forward bite off the turns."
Eury Jr.: "10-4."
Dale Jr. : (for emphasis) "Damn it."
Hmiel: "40 laps to go."
Dale Jr: "Am I gonna run out?" (fuel)
Eury Jr.: "No. we're not gonna let you run out."
As the race progressed, Dale Jr. found himself needed to concentrate completely.
Dale Jr. (lap 285): "Hush! Don't talk to me at all!"